OCEAN PARK - Feather by feather, a life-size model of a California condor is taking shape in Bart Kenworthy's tiny Ocean Park studio.
The bird, which will perch on whale bones, will be cast in bronze and installed at the Port of Ilwaco in November for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial commemoration. The design is based on an entry from Lewis and Clark's journals and the installation will include a high-relief sculpture of the party's best hunter, Reuben Fields, and other members of the expedition stalking a condor.
Kenworthy, 60, a self-taught sculptor and artist, began work on the condor three years ago. Work was interrupted, though, after he suffered a stroke two years ago, which left him without the use of his left hand. Although he has a walking stick to ease his mobility, he says he doesn't use it much. "It's too easy," he said.
As he's recovering, Kenworthy is modeling the huge bird's 10-foot wingspan with his right hand, using pieces he's been collecting over the past two years.
"The hardest part is building the armatures and getting the proportions right," the artist said recently. He completed the whale's rib structure before he had the stroke.
Now, using strips of ultra-hard yew wood, he's fashioning the foot-long primary feathers which he coats with wax, then with a special clay. "Basically it's just a huge pair of wings," he said.
The bird's head is completed - with a bear claw for a beak.
"Condors are closer relatives to storks than to raptors," Kenworthy said. "They're left over from the ice age and fed on mega-fauna such as rhinos and mammoths.
"I can't do a sculpture of an animal without seeing it in the wild," he said. So, in 2001, he traveled to a condor study site in Big Sur, Calif. "I saw the birds up close," he said, "and made sketches and took photos through a one-way glass." He even got the rare privilege of seeing a pair of adult condors mate in the top of a redwood tree.
When it's completed, the 7 1/2-foot tall sculpture will be perched on a large basalt boulder, already in place at the port.
"I've chosen to be literal and realistic" with the piece, he said. "Condors have a reputation for being ugly, but you won't think that when you see the sculpture."
Kenworthy decided on his path in life in the early 1970s when he was working as a timber faller and living in Naselle. "One day at lunch, I thought, 'I can do something else. I don't have to cut down trees all my life,'" he said. He carved a bear on his falling axe, then began working on a carving of Benjamin Franklin.
His brother worked for the city of Portland at the time and showed the piece to Bob Hazen, who was president of Benjamin Franklin Savings and Loan. "He told me to come to his office. When I did, he said 'I want that sculpture reproduced in native wood,'" he said.
"So I did it in maple and took it to Bob," he said. "He said he wanted one for each bank branch. I had a better idea. I told him I'd do a big one for the company's headquarters at First and Columbia streets."
Kenworthy went to Weyerhaeuser in Raymond and bought an old-growth cedar log, took it to Beaver Creek, Ore., and "carved it on the spot from a clay model. It was twice life-size."
Hazen and company executives came to look at the sculpture, got Wilhelm Trucking to take it to Portland, and Kenworthy completed it in the lobby of the headquarters building. "It was scary as hell," he said. "I wasn't good with meeting the public. But I got over it and met a lot of interesting people."
The piece was unveiled during the U.S. bicentennial celebrations in 1976 and now resides at Franklin High School in Portland.
A stroke hasn't slowed Kenworthy down much. He traveled to Zambia, South Africa, this year. He's going to New Zealand in February, then back to South Africa in October where he may have a commission to do models of dinosaurs. "I'll be doing 5-mile runs soon," he said.
"I'm going to be a busy man in 2005," he said. "I'll be traveling, working on the condor and I have a commission to do a war monument in Aberdeen."